The National Prevention Mechanism (NPM) has been operating since 2014, with the possibility of inspecting the conditions in which any persons deprived of their liberty find themselves.

What locations can the NPM visit?

The NPM’s work focuses on prisons, educational centers for detaining young people and centers for the temporary installation of foreigners (and similar spaces). Visits are also conducted to other places of deprivation of liberty, such as detention cells in police stations or courts, homes and hospital units with psychiatric internment.

How are visits organized?

As a rule, two or three visitors to the NPM examine the facilities, the food supplied and the support services, paying particular attention to the characteristics of cells or rooms, hygiene conditions and access to health care, as well as the possibilities for profissional, educational and recreational occupation. Voluntary and confidential questionnaires are also distributed in prisons to obtain more structured information.

Do visitors talk to the detainees?

Dialogue, individually or in groups, is the central tool used by NPM visitors to try to understand and evaluate the daily lives of those deprived of their freedom. It also seeks to listen to the other parties involved – prison guards, medical staff and security guards, for example – as well as those responsible for the establishment.

How are the places to be visited chosen?

The decision weighs several criteria, in particular the content of previous reports and references to risk factors. News reports or complaints may justify urgent visits. However, there is an underline aim to visit the largest number of establishments throughout the Portuguese territory and to do so on a regular basis.

Does the NPM deal with individual cases?

Although the NPM gives priority to dialogue, the purpose of its action is general and preventive. Any complaints of specific offenses against the rights of persons deprived of their liberty are dealt with in the scope of the Ombudsman’s activity.

What follow-up is given to visits?

After each visit, a report is written, and then sent to the authority responsible for the detention space, underlining the main risk factors identified and analyzed, as well as the good practices observed. Whenever possible, concrete suggestions for problems encountered are offered.

Can the NPM order changes?

In the face of more serious or systemic situations, the NPM can formulate formal recommendations to the competent entities (for example, Ministries), which are made public. Annually, the NPM produces a report detailing its activity and analyzing the topics that deserved more attention. This report is delivered to the Parliament and is discussed there by the office holder, in the present situation by the Ombudsperson Maria Lúcia Amaral.

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